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  • Writer's pictureRuth Loten

What Do I Look For In A Book? (Ruth)

When Jane and I decided to set up Castle Priory Press, we had a long conversation about the kinds of books we wanted to publish, both in terms of genre and style. Many independent publishing companies focus on a particular type of book, but we were both keen not to do this. In the end we decided that we would consider pretty much any kind of book (and those we didn’t want to publish weren’t because of any particular standpoint, it was simply that we didn’t feel we were equipped with enough understanding of those industries to be able to do the authors justice.) However, it did get us thinking about what we look for in a book – not just as publishers, but also as readers and we thought it might be helpful to share that with people.

For me, just as my taste in music is fairly eclectic, my reading habits also vary wildly. If I’m in the mood for something light, that I don’t necessarily have to concentrate too hard on, I suppose my ‘comfort zone’ is 1920s female led detective novels – think Daisy Dalrymple, Phryne Fisher, Iris Woodmore, Lady Eleanor Swift, Kitty Underhay etc – but actually I’m open to reading pretty much anything if someone recommends it. I’ve read some excellent sci-fi and dystopian novels because friends have said they were good, even though they’re really not my first choice of genre.

So, to the question at hand. What do I look for in a book? The short and much over-simplified answer is that it has to be a good story. As a reader, I’m prepared to overlook a degree of ‘editorial choices I disagree with’ if the story is good enough to keep me interested.

I have to connect with the characters in some way as well. That’s not to say that they have to come from a similar background to me, or that I have to have anything at all in common with them, but there has to be something that makes me feel something. It doesn’t even have to be a positive reaction to them and I think this is best summed up in the book I’m reading at the moment. Evelyn Hugo of ‘The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo’ is not a likeable person. Monique, the narrator, best sums it up when she says that Evelyn is not a nice person, but she is still fascinated by her and that was exactly how I, as the reader felt. At my book group we decided that we liked her BECAUSE of her flaws not in spite of them.

Personally, I also like books that challenge me. They don’t have to be massively intellectual, but I like it if they make me think. It could be about my own behaviour/ideas, it could be about the world at large, it could be to think about historical events from someone else’s perspective. It could even be as simple as making me view a genre in a different way. There has been much discussion on Book Twitter recently about the much maligned romance genre, particularly rom-com books. They are huge sellers in terms of market share, but are often dismissed as nothing more than beach reads. Whilst this may be true of some authors, there are plenty of other books in this category that hit every trope for the genre, but do it in a way that gives an extra element to the story. Jenny Kane’s books are a perfect example of this, as are Nora Roberts’.

I often use books as an escape, so for me they need to give me a different world to escape into. It doesn’t always have to be sunshine and roses and the ending doesn’t have to be happy – bittersweet works just as well – but it has to take me out of my own life. I know I’ve really got into a book if my husband gets cross that I’m ignoring him. I’m not, I genuinely haven’t heard him because I’m immersed in the world of the book in my hands. I want a book to give me permission to feel the big emotions, I want to root for the character and feel their highs and lows along with them. The best example I can give for this is Bonnie Garmus’ Lessons in Chemistry. I read this a few months ago and was so swept along by the story that when I subsequently read a book about forgotten women in science, for a moment I was incensed that Elizabeth Zott had not been included in it. It took me a minute to register that I was angry that a fictional scientist had been left out of a book about real ones!

I also want a book that stays with me long after I’ve closed its covers. Recently, I was chatting to a friend about historical fiction books where LGBTQ characters don’t necessarily realise their sexual orientation and gradually become aware of it over the course of a book, or where it’s obvious to the reader that a character has romantic feelings for someone of the same sex, but the person in question is blissfully unaware of it, or refuses to recognise it as such. The two books that immediately sprang to mind were A.S. Byatt’s ‘Possession’ and Emma Donohue’s ‘The Sealed Letter’ the former of which I read in 2019, the latter in 2020. Since then I’ve read (or listened to) well over 700 books, so for me to still instantly recall them, they must have had an impact on me. An even better example of this was an occasion a few years ago, when I fulfilled a promise to my 8-year-old self and put a cross in a Canadian WW1 war cemetery because of a fictional character who had died at Courcelette. (The book was ‘Rilla of Ingleside’ but have a box of tissues ready if you read it!)

So, I guess what I’m really saying is that if a book is good, I’ll be interested in reading it. I’ll probably be interested in publishing it too!

So, if you’ve got something written and you’re ready to take the next steps into publishing, get in touch and I promise we’ll do everything we can to help you become a published author. We want to build a community of authors who promote each other’s books and to do that we need you!



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